Sam Worthington stands on the edge of an action film, where the “man” is the least interesting element of the title.
Movies are constantly trying to trick us into seeing them with their deceptive titles, from Naked Lunch to The Neverending Story, and we are almost inevitably disappointed when their arthouse leanings try and sneak quality in under the guise of a blockbuster marquee. Thank heavens for those films that still have a speck of honesty left in them, like Three Men and a Baby and Snakes on a Plane. Man on a Ledge is a movie that is so full of upfront honesty that it hurts, and perhaps that is the nicest thing that can be said for it.
After escaping from prison for a crime he claims he didn’t commit, ex-cop Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) checks into a hotel, has a nice meal, and steps out onto a ledge announcing he will soon jump. While cops Nathan Marcus (Titus Welliver) and Jack Dougherty (Edward Burns) attempt to control the crowd and talk him down respectively, Cassidy asks for disgraced negotiator Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks) to come and handle him personally. Unbeknownst to all, except those who had seen the film’s trailer, Cassidy is merely a decoy for brother Joey (Jamie Bell) and his girlfriend Angie (Genesis Rodriguez), who are attempting to break into businessman David Englander’s (Ed Harris) jewelry store across the street.
The premise for Man on a Ledge brings with it an air of intrigue, although director Asger Leth’s filmography only contains the documentary Ghosts of Cité Soleil. Similarly, screenwriter Pablo F. Fenjves is best known for ghostwriting the late Bernie Mac’s autobiography and the controversial O.J. Simpson confessional narrative If I Did It. Perhaps he should have let somebody else write this script as well. O.J. has to have a lot of time on his hands now, and he has experience with the criminal underworld after all. The film wastes no time in setting up its slender thread of a storyline, and all that is left is the painful 90 minutes or so of the inevitable resolution. What is so frustrating is that this is such an obvious diversionary tactic from the start, but one that actually makes very little sense when you stop to think about it.
Worthington continues to be cast in things, despite never having displayed an ounce of acting talent, so it may not have been the wisest casting decision to put him up against the comparatively charismatic ledge, which exudes ledgy goodness and steals just about every scene it is in. All other actors are purely perfunctory, and the normally charming Banks is simply another wasted opportunity in this turgid thriller. Edward Burns, once a hot filmmaker and actor in his own right, continues to sleepwalk his way through a series of unforgettable roles, and Genesis Rodriguez looks good in her underwear. It also bears asking: what the hell is Ed Harris doing? He doesn’t seem to have quite recovered from National Treasure 2, mugging his way through some moments of scenery chewing villainy.
Man on a Ledge at least uses a real ledge, so authenticity is achieved on this level. Unfortunately, a sea of bad dialogue, poor character choices and logic-defying plot points take what could have been an interesting film and shove it face first off the top storey into the willing pavement below. We now anxiously await Snakes on a Man on a Ledge.
Man on a Ledge is released in Australia on 2 February 2012 from Hoyts.